Bucks trample Bobcats: A study in contested shots

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks turned in their best scoring performance of the season, dropping the Charlotte Bobcats 131-102. The win puts Milwaukee within one game of the seventh seed, but there were bigger concerns exuding from Monday's win.

Scoring a season high 131 points, shooting a higher percentage on threes (51.9% 3fg) than overall (51% fg), beating a team by 11+ points for the first time in 29 games, and pulling within one game of the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs: Good.

Allowing 50.7% fg, 28 free throws, and extending a six game streak of allowing 100+ points: Bad.

Also, the Charlotte Bobcats. Bad.

There were a few noteworthy occurrences during the Milwaukee Bucks' 131-102 win on Monday night. Larry Sanders (career high 24 pts, 11-19 fg, 13 rbs) spent about 28 of his 31 minutes hanging on the rim. Monta Ellis (19 pts, 7-14 fg, career high 14 asts) set a personal record for dimes. JJ Redick threw together a solid line (20 pts, 8-12 fg, 2-5 3fg), and Josh McRoberts started at center (for the Bobcats).

But all the offensive fanfare really can't mask the Bucks' continued struggles preventing opponents from matching their scoring potency. There were far too many instances of open Bobcats on the perimeter, and Bucks defenders rushing out to save face after biting on a drive.

Funny enough, Monday night's win versus the Bobcats showcased all of the inconsistencies that have produced a Bucks defense incapable of closing on a three one play, and smothering around the paint on the next possession.

From start to finish, I tracked every Bobcats shot, parsed out by contested and uncontested attempt. It bears, but may not need, noting that the following is relatively unscientific. I counted some likely questionable perimeter close outs as "contested," and did the opposite with some defensive possessions late enough where it was obvious indifference was inconsequential.

Totals:

Uncontested (45.2%) - 18-33 fg (54.5% fg), 2-9 3fg (22.2% 3fg)

Contested (54.8%) - 19-40 fg (47.5% fg), 4-10 3fg (40% 3fg)

First Half:

Uncontested (45.7%) - 12-16 fg (75% fg), 2-5 3fg (40% 3fg)

Contested (54.2%) - 10-19 fg (52.6% fg), 3-6 3fg (50%)

Second Half:

Uncontested (44.7%) - 6-17 fg (35.2% fg), 0-4 3fg (0%)

Contested (55.3%) - 9-21 fg (42.8% fg), 1-4 3fg (25%)

It's no surprise the Bobcat's scoring efficiency dropped from 62.9% fg in the first half to 39.5% fg in the second. Likewise, the Bucks expanded their lead from 9 at the break to 29 by game's end, as Charlotte gradually regressed to the mean (contested or uncontested) and Milwaukee started pressing into Bobcats shooters and forcing mistakes before the shot (22 points off 12 second half turnovers).

With that said, it was alarming how underwhelming the Bucks' defense was against some pretty stoppable set plays. The Bobcats backcourt has been pretty solid lately, but that's no excuse for Tyrus Thomas to drain two threes when his previous season high was three. Nor does it forgive Milwaukee's lack of fight at the first sign of a screen, which often produced good looks and more passing options for Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, and Ben Gordon.

A couple weeks ago, after beating the Portland Trailblazers 102-95, coach Jim Boylan referenced contested shots as an important barometer of defensive effort:

"We contested just about every shot in the first half. Any look they got, we were there with a hand up, and that's a big key to having a successful defense," Boylan said. "That's what we've been preaching over the last couple days to try to get that number back up. We charted every game. We like to be above 75%, and recently we've been down in the 60s and on occasion even in the 50s."

Since then, the Bucks have posted a 106.9 Defensive Rating, surprisingly only 17th worst in the NBA. Monday night, they finished a hair below 55% in contesting shots. If this weren't the Charlotte Bobcats, Boylan would have spent 10 minutes fielding post-game questions about losing six of seven during a playoff race.

Before the game, I asked Boylan about the role of shot contests in the team's recent defensive problems:

"It's effort. It's still an issue for us. We're not doing it consistently. We'll have some games where we're pretty good. And then we've had other games where we're not getting to the overall effort from the entire team that we need," Boylan said. "It's something that we talk about almost on a daily basis. We're trying to find ways to get better at it. A lot of times, there are some odd things that happen, guys get open shots. If you're guarding your man, you should be able to get a hand up and contest the shot, get up off the ground to make it more difficult."

That makes sense. No team is ever going to forcefully contest every shot. Things happen; namely superstars, good screens, fatigue, and smart off-ball movement. NBA defenses are designed to flow like amoebas, swelling and contracting based off the ball's location, along with the coordinates of the team's best player(s) (neither is mutually exclusive).

However, after a handful of years taking defense for granted and wondering if the offense was good enough to compete, we're now faced with the bizarre Scott Skiles problem: Too much offense, not enough defense. Both are zero sum games, but which one would you rather have facing the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers in the first round?

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